Date of Completion

Spring 5-10-2009

Thesis Advisor(s)

Letitia Naigles

Honors Major

Communication Science


Cognition and Perception | Communication Sciences and Disorders | Developmental Psychology | Psychology


Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are classified as pervasive developmental disorders characterized by social, communicative, and behavioral impairments. According to formal and informal reports, children with ASD present with receptive and expressive language delay. Joint attention (JA: the behavior that occurs when two individuals focus on the same object or event) has been identified as a possible marker of delayed language development in children with ASD. In this study, the JA behaviors in children with ASD were contrasted with initially language-matched typically developing (TYP) children across three visits.

Measures of language, the frequency, duration, and source of initiation of JA episodes, and the choice of toy during those episodes, were coded. Across visits and groups, mothers initiated more JA episodes than children; however, typical children also initiated more JA episodes than ASD children at visits 1 and 2. Also, the total duration of typically developing children’s JA episodes was generally longer than that of the ASD children’s, significantly so at Visit 2. Significant associations emerged between children’s vocabulary and two measures of JA: frequency and number of maternal initiations. Teaching parents to incorporate JA training in their interactions with their children may likely help children with ASD acquire language.